A former New York City corrections officer who repeatedly kicked a Rikers Island inmate “in the head so hard it caused bleeding in the brain” has been arrested on federal charges accusing him of violating the inmate’s civil rights, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.
The charges against the former guard, Brian Coll, in the “vicious” 2012 beating death of Ronald Spear, were announced Wednesday by Bharara at a press conference.
The FBI says Coll kicked Spear multiple times in the head on December 19, 2012, while Spear was restrained. A second guard, Byron Taylor, is accused of covering up the beating, according to the criminal complaint.
A third guard, Anthony Torres, 59, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit obstruction of justice and filing a false report, and cooperated with the investigation, the FBI says.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. After Kicking Spear in the Head Multiple Times Coll Told Him ‘This Is What You Get for F**king With Me,’ the FBI Says
The FBI says Spear, a pre-trial detainee at the Rikers Island jail complex, was already restrained by guards, including Byron Taylor, when he was attacked by Brian Coll. According to the criminal complaint, Spears posed no danger to Coll or the other officers.
Coll, the FBI alleges, “repeatedly kicked Spear in the head while Spear was already restrained and while he was lying face-down, prone on the prison floor. Coll continued to kick Spear in the head even after another correction officer told to Coll to stop and attempted to shield Spear’s head from further blows.”
The FBI says after the beating, Coll bent down, picked up Spear’s head and said, inches from his face, “that’s what you get for f**king with me,” and “remember that I’m the one who did this to you.”
He then dropped Spear’s head and slammed it into the prison floor, the FBI says.
Read the complaint below:
Spear suffered severe injuries, including multiple contusions to the skull, and later died. His death was ruled a homicide. Spear’s family says he was killed because he had been complaining about not receiving proper medical treatment for kidney disease.
According to the complaint, the assault occurred in the jail’s North Infirmary Command, the facility on Rikers Island that houses inmates with serious or chronic medical needs and physical limitations. There are no cameras in the area where the attack took place.
“Rikers inmates may be walled off from society but they are not walled off from protections of our Constitution,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at a press conference.
The city settled a lawsuit with Spear’s family last July, agreeing to pay $2.75 million, according to the New York Times.
The Bronx District Attorney declined to press criminal charges against the guards, the New York Daily News reported last April. District Attorney Robert Johnson told the Daily News his office, “found it couldn’t prove criminal responsibility (on the officers’ behalf) beyond a reasonable doubt.”
2. Spear Was Suffering From End-Stage Renal Disease & Was Receiving Dialysis Treatment
Spear was arrested in September 2012 and jailed on burglary charges. He was suffering from end-stage renal disease, according to the FBI. The New York Times reported that Spear required regular dialysis treatment, and often complained about being denied his medications and the treatment.
Spear filed his own lawsuit in December 2012, without the aid of a lawyer, saying he had been denied medication, which caused “severe physical pain,” the Times reported. He also said he contacted the Legal Aid Society about correction officers “retaliating against me.” Two weeks later he was dead.
“It appears that correction officers had grown impatient with Mr. Spear’s persistent requests for medical treatment, and that they punished him by beating him to death,” Spear’s lawyers said in a letter to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, requesting a civil rights investigation, according to the Times.
The FBI says in the complaint that Spear and Coll got into a verbal altercation during the early morning hours of December 19, 2012, yelling profanities at each other, after Spear demanded to see the doctor. At about 5 a.m., after the earlier argument, Spear went to the control room where Coll was working to again try to get to the doctor’s office, but he was stopped in hallway by Coll.
FBI Special Agent Vanessa Tibbits wrote in the complaint, “I have learned that Coll stuck his head in the doctor’s office doorway, and asked whether the doctor on staff could see Spear. The doctor responded that he could see Spear later in the morning, but not right then, and waved to Spear, who was standing in the hallway.”
Then, other guards say, another verbal altercation ensued between Coll and Spear, and “Coll and Spear began jabbing at each other, with Coll punching Spear in the face.” One of the guards said he never saw Spear strike Coll. A guard says inmates were watching the guards restrain Spear and were yelling, “they’re going to kill him!”
Anthony Torres said he and Taylor restrained Spear, with Torres holding his hands behind his back while sitting on top of him. Torres told the FBI that Coll “became irate, stood up and yelled ‘motherf**cker!’ and reared his foot back. Coll proceeded to kick Spear in the head, an pulled his foot back to do it again.” Torres said he yelled “No!” or “Don’t,’ and tried to block Coll’s foot with his hand. He kicked Torres in the wrist, and then “undeterred,” kicked Spear two more times, Torres said.
Spear was handcuffed, but seemed to have stopped breathing, according to the report. Medical staff tried to revive him, but were not successful and he was pronounced dead at the jail.
3. The Guards Covered Up the Beating, the FBI Claims
According to the complaint, Coll, Taylor and others conspired to cover up the assault to make it seem like the use of force against Spear was warranted, and the death was accidental or caused by Spear himself.
They falsely reported that Spear had attacked Coll with a cane, and lied in the report about Coll kicking Spear in the head while restrained, the FBI says.
Taylor asked the other guards to omit the fact that he was involved in the incident, and did not fill out a use of force report, according to the complaint, and the other officers didn’t include him in their reports.
According to the complaint, Coll, Taylor and the other guards “repeatedly lied about the assault as agreed, including in official use of force reports that union representatives stressed had to be ‘consistent.’ They continued their lies in statements to Department of Correction staff and investigators, state and federal prosecutors, and before state and federal grand juries.”
The FBI alleges the cover up began immediately after the assault, when the “probe team” arrived to investigate, along with prison officials. Coll told the probe team’s captain and assistant deputy wardens that Spear had swung a cane at Coll, striking him in his stomach. Torres confirmed that’s what happened, despite knowing Spear had not swung a cane at Coll. He never mentioned to the prison officials and investigators that Coll had kicked Spear in the head, the FBI says.
The guards then sat together while the investigation began. Taylor came into the room and asked to be left out of the reports, saying “I was never here,” and the others agreed to that.
Union officials then arrived and took the guards to an in-house clinic, where they told the officers the importance of “being consistent” on their use of force reports, the FBI claims. The union representatives and the guards then went to a local pizza parlor to have dinner. On the way back to Rikers, Coll called Spear “an asshole,” when he knew Spear had died.
4. Coll Began Working as a Corrections Officer in 2002
According to the complaint, Coll started working as a corrections officer in 2002. On the night of the alleged assault, the FBI says Coll was working his regular post in the North Infirmary Command. He was assigned to the “A-Post,” the FBI says, which meant he was “responsible for manning the control center, or the bubble.”
Coll is no longer working as a guard at Rikers. The 45-year-old Smithtown, New York, resident was charged with deprivation of rights under the color of law, filing a false report, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and conspiracy to file false forms. Taylor was additionally charged with obstruction of justice by lying to a federal grand jury.
5. Taylor Had Been a Guard for Only 8 Months Before the Assault
Taylor was hired as a corrections officer in April 2012. He was working as the “meal replacement officer” in the North Infirmary Command, meaning he relieved other officers when they took their breaks, according to the complaint.
He is still a corrections officer at Rikers. Taylor, 31, of Brentwood, New York, was charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, conspiracy to file false forms and obstruction of justice by lying to a federal grand jury.